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Subirrigation System Performance and Evaluation in the Red River Valley of the North

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 33(6): 811-818. (doi: 10.13031/aea.12286) @2017
Authors:   Xinhua Jia, Thomas F. Scherer, Dean D. Steele, Thomas M. DeSutter
Keywords:   Red River Valley of the North, Subirrigation, Uniformity, Water use efficiency.


Using a subsurface drainage system, subirrigation (SI) applies water below the ground surface and raises the phreatic water to within or near the root zone. SI is relatively new to the Red River Valley (RRV) of the North in eastern North Dakota (ND) and west central Minnesota (MN). In 2011, two SI field sites in the RRV were installed and have shown promising results in optimal water management and increasing agricultural production. Unlike a surface irrigation system, SI supplies water below the ground surface over a long duration; water loss is generally through crop transpiration; and SI leads to negligible water loss via wind, surface runoff and evaporation. Therefore, a new method was developed to evaluate the SI system performance. Water application efficiency (Ea) was calculated through the soil moisture changes in the root zone before and after the SI application with known amounts of SI, precipitation, and evapotranspiration (ET). Uniformity coefficient (UC) and distribution efficiency of low quarter (DULQ) were estimated from the total depth of water stored in the root zone. The SI system performance in 2014 and 2015 showed that the Ea was over 100% in 2014 and 78% for the ND 2015 site-year. The Ea values were high, indicating that the SI system either performed better than typical surface irrigation systems with minimal water loss, or the SI system and/or the methods need improvement in accurate ET estimation to help close the water budget. The UCs were 67% to 86%, and the DULQs were 48% to 78%, much lower than typical sprinkler and surface irrigation systems, possibly due to the unique SI flow path. Overall, the evaluation indicated that a SI system is effective as a water supply, but the uniformity needs to be improved with a longer SI duration or smaller flow rate or an alternative SI system design.

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